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Ricky Gervais Interview conducted Tuesday 4th November 2003

Ricky Gervais needs little introduction to comedy fans here in the UK. Having shot to stardom with the hit show The Office, he recently dabbled with a bit of stand-up with a number of sell out shows to his credit. Only a few people were lucky enough to see him perform live, so on November 17th Ricky is releasing a DVD of his performance. The show covered all areas of the animal kingdom, and is funnily enough called Animals. Having confirmed that there will be no more episodes of The Office following the episodes this Christmas, the DVD is the perfect opportunity to witness the talented comedian trying a new area of comedy. We were lucky enough to speak to Ricky whilst he was in the studio putting the finishing touches to the Christmas episodes of The Office (due for airing next month). Also released last week was the second series of The Office on DVD, so we thought we would take the opportunity to ask him questions about that, and also clear up some other rumours that have been flying around recently. Read on to find out what he had to say…

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais
First up, we believe that congratulations are in order for the sales of The Office series 2, which has broken the record for the fastest selling TV title on DVD. How do you feel about holding the record?

Ricky Gervais: Thank you, it has. I don’t know if the Guinness book records know about it (laughs). Its was great yeah, I mean I think it was a reflection of that they (the records) are going to get broken for the next few years. I think a reflection of both times us breaking the record (both Office DVDs) is the fact that obviously more people have DVD players now so last year I think it was sort of the first year where DVDs were overtaking Video, and then this year I think they (price of players) went down to about £100 didn’t they? So, I don’t think Videos are going to break many records ever again, but I think you might see a few records for DVD over the next year or so.

DVDActive: So do you have your own DVD player?

Ricky Gervais: Oh yeah I’ve got two! We just have one for the house and I bought my girlfriend a little portable one about three years ago for Christmas. One’s zoned and one’s both zones, so we can play American ones and we get things off Amazon a little bit quicker.  

DVDActive: This month sees your DVD release of Ricky Gervais Live: Animals. Can you tell us a little about the disc?

Ricky Gervais: Yeah I’m quite proud of the actual DVD. I did the stand-up, and that’s sort of an hour and twelve and I was worried that because people had bought the office you get three hours of the office, plus we do lots of extra footage so I really wanted to give value for money. So, I did the whole uncut version of the stand-up tour, which obviously very few people saw because I only did a few dates in London, so most people buying it will never have seen me doing stand-up, so I think that’s something. I then did a behind the scenes, I filmed myself right from writing it throught to the first night and there is a little half hour documentary that we have cut, and that’s exclusive. And then I was still worried about it not being enough for seventeen quid, or whatever it is so I did a director’s commentary on my own stand-up and that turned out to be another hour of stand-up.

DVDActive: What exactly can we expect from the show itself?

Ricky Gervais: Well, it’s a show, the conceit is that it is a fake lecture, I come out there and I think I am the new David Attenborough and I suppose the subtitle of the show is Life on Earth, the bits David Attenborough left out! I go on about everything former, from anecdotes from my early dealings, wanting to be a vet and naturalist. I also go on tangents obviously and I find things on spurious facts and misconceptions, and erm I go through the Bible. Its funny because when I was writing it I was trying to get an hour together, I was in a hotel room filming The Office one Sunday. I was thinking, God, I still need another 10-15 minutes and thank God for Gideons because there in the draw was comedy gold, I started at Genesis and I couldn’t write it down fast enough. Yeah that’s a big set piece where I actually go through creation.

DVDActive: Did anyone else have any input into the show's material?

Ricky Gervais: Oh no, I only ever write my own stuff.

DVDActive: You've mentioned in the past that you consider stand-up comedy to be your true calling, why is that?

Ricky Gervais: I think it is possibly a large bastion of non-censorship, outside your own sort of moralities and laws of the land, its anything you want, there is no filter, it doesn’t have to be twenty nine minutes fifteen. No one has to look at it, you don’t have to worry about anything really, so I am quite excited about that. I also think it is the hardest branch of comedy and entertainment I’d say, so there is a challenge there. I want to be good at it and I don’t know if I feel slightly guilty about it that most comedians slog around above pubs for fifteen years to try and get a sitcom and I waltzed in and wrote a sitcom, and now I feel I should have done the bits I missed, I don’t know if its that!

DVDActive: Yeah, that was going to be one of our questions do you feel guilty for your success in stand-up, by riding on the back of your TV fame?

Ricky Gervais: Yeah I do worry that there are maybe thirty stand-up comics playing above pubs tonight going ‘Lucky bastard, he’s not a comedian. I’d like to see him deal with a crowd, he’d die on his arse, they would rip him to pieces!’. The thing is I have done it since and obviously it has gone really well, but I still think it wasn’t really a test as I was already famous. You still have never really done it, you never gone out to a crowd that doesn’t know you and won them over. So, I can never go back, I can never have that again, I would have to go out in a false beard and dark glasses, but even then I suppose I would have the confidence of my success behind me. Its like those conservative MPs who are homeless for a week, they go ‘see, that was easy’, and I go ‘no, no you don’t have the degradation and worry, I bet you’ve got credit cards in your pocket and it doesn’t count’. So I feel that I could never really know what it is like to be a struggling comedian again. Unless everything I touch now is rubbish, then I might have to start again (laugh).    

DVDActive: Do you ever worry that you'll always be thought of as David Brent in the public eye in the same was as Steve Coogan always has Alan Partridge in the background? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Ricky Gervais: I think there is always something you are most famous for, but its what you do next really because for some people like Woody Allen he is always the same but people accept that, that’s his stich, like Groucho Marks, Laurel and Hardy, whatever they did, they did persona, they didn’t move anyway from it. Where someone like I suppose John Cleese was plagued by the fact that it was just his face and physicality, his whole persona was so strong that he was always a bit like Basil Fawlty, you know even in Clockwise he runs like that, he walks like that, he is 6ft 5, he has got that, its not his fault. It will always be a bit like that. With the Office it was very naturalistic, I used my own face and voice to act as naturally as possible. I suppose by definition I will always be a little bit like David Brent, or rather he is a bit like me! So yeah, I can’t worry about that, you know I can always put on a northern accent and a funny wig and people will go ‘God he is a two trick pony!’. That was Paul Whitehouse that said that, not me! I think he said it but now Jonathan Ross has picked up on it, and now they say that old Gervais was a one trick pony. Can I just say that Red Rum was a one trick pony, I’m not! (laugh).

DVDActive: Yeah you’re good friends with Jonathan Ross aren’t you?

Ricky Gervais: Yeah and Paul, they are just trying to annoy me!

DVDActive: What was it like to have been named the most powerful person in British television comedy by the Radio Times [earlier this year]? Does this sort of accolade make much of a difference to your work?

Ricky Gervais: Yeah, well even early in the year I was voted 17th most stylish man in Britain in the GQ awards and Johnny Vegas beat me! So, I don’t think you should take polls too seriously, although it is very flattering. I think that is a reflection of how big the Office was at that time and I think it is the same thing when HMV is doing a poll for the greatest records of all time, it goes Beatles, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Lets get it on by Marvin Gaye, Robbie Williams, Life Thru a Lens. I think it is a reflection that I am new and successful as a person. I am sure I will slip down the chart this time next year (laugh), but its nice, its nice to have it once isn’t it?

DVDActive: Yes it sure is!

DVDActive: Did you have much input into the Office DVD releases?

Ricky Gervais: Me and Steve did it all, we edit the show, no one comes into the edit with us except our editor. We write it by ourselves, we film, obviously we don’t film by ourselves, there are lots of people there! We direct it and then we edit it alone for the six weeks. No one comes down here, they look at the final thing. With the DVD we chose the extras, we cut the extras, we chose the font. It is a cottage industry, we do everything ourselves. That’s why it takes so long and that’s why we can’t do too many series’, it’s just too intense.

DVDActive: We were originally told that the second series of The Office would be released over 2 discs like the original series, do you know why it was only released on the one disc in the end?

Ricky Gervais: I don’t know who told you that, but again we cut it to time and then the technical side - if we can fit it on one disc I think that’s better. I don’t know if they wanted it to be on two because it looks like more value for money or something, but there’s as much on this one. There’s the three hours of the series, there’s a twenty minute video diary which myself and Steve did, there’s deleted scenes and there’s outtakes as well. So I would have thought there’s more than most.

DVDActive: Can we expect the same extras on the region one disc?

Ricky Gervais: Yeah I think it is the same, I think the first one has just come out there and the second one will be the same. I think they just literally take ours, although they did put a glossary of terms in the first one. Things like ‘bummer’ they had to explain. Otherwise it is exactly the same.  

DVDActive: What is your favourite DVD?

Ricky Gervais: My favourite DVD, um I suppose my favourite is, oh I know my favourite DVD at the moment, its Comedian by Seinfeld. I never go through extra footage and things like that, I’ve never been that sort of bloke. I watch the film and that’s it, but the extras stuff on Seinfeld, he does a directors commentary and there’s all these deleted things, its just fantastic, its just brilliant! Have you seen it?

DVDActive: Unfortunately not

Ricky Gervais: It’s the one where he has to get a whole new hour of stand-up because he’s been away and it’s following him going back to all these little clubs. You know, he is the greatest comedian in the world, its just fantastic, its great. The Spinal Tap one is good with all the extra stuff obviously and then my favourite DVDs are my favourite films. So, Godfather I have watched to death, Godfather 2 I have watched to death and Casablanca. I watch my favourite films really.

DVDActive: You have mentioned on various occasions that after the Christmas episodes there will be no more of the Office. Is that really true?

Ricky Gervais: That’s the end of the Office

DVDActive: Are you sure?

Ricky Gervais: Yep definitely.

DVDActive: For any particular reasons?

Ricky Gervais: Well loads of reasons really. In terms of leaving a sort of legacy and it being a finite piece of work. So many people in the past have let me down, I think so many of my favourite comedy sitcoms/writers and actors have gone just one step too far. The quality goes down, you suddenly think, I don’t want to see this again, its repetitive or just poor!. They have taken the money and run and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want people to say or think that of me the number of times I have thought it of other people. The other thing is that series’ such as Simpson’s and Friends can keep up the quality because they have twenty producers and twenty writers. We do it all ourselves, we do everything ourselves right up to the wire. Like we are in the dub now, I’m doing the interview for it (the Christmas specials), we do it right up until it goes down the wire and then the afters stuff is prepping the DVD. We start that in January to get it out for Easter, so it is a cottage industry. That takes up every moment of our time. Then the other thing is, I suppose the real reason artistically is that it was always meant to be a finite thing. It was never meant to be a knockabout sitcom in its tenth series because of the credibility of how long a BBC film crew would hang around a paper merchant in Slough? Its ludicrous, they would move in with them, it would be like the Truman Show. Yeah so that’s the reasons.

DVDActive: Did the rumours an Office movie have any truth behind them?

Ricky Gervais: Nah, Steven Spielberg calling me? No it was just made up. A paper just went Steven Spielberg just called him and it had quotes from me and Steven Spielberg. It was totally made up, he never called me. The swine!

DVDActive: I heard you've been doing the chat show circuit in the US promoting The Office on BBC America. Are you surprised by the critical acclaim over there considering there can only be so many references that translate internationally?

Ricky Gervais: No just the once on Letterman. Also it’s relative. It’s not a huge show, relatively speaking it’s like having a hit on UK Living. It just so happens that BBC America is on in thirty million homes, it’s just that America is so big. Also it’s only really big in the metropolises, New York, LA, San Francisco, and Chicago. I don’t think we have hit the farmhouse in Kansas yet, but it is big in the industry, it’s big in the media and it’s big in those circles and no I am not surprised it works in America because all my influences are American. It looks quintessential English, but its not. The influences are things like Spinal Tap, obviously a direct influence, Laurel and Hardy, Larry Sanders, Simpson’s. Its very much American influence. All my comedy is, particularly narrative comedy for television. My sense of humour may be very English, but in terms of writing and directing it’s the American stuff I have loved for certainly as long as I have been involved in television. My favourites of all time are things like Laurel and Hardy, the Marks Brothers and stuff like that.

DVDActive: I see that NBC plan to remake the series for an American audience, given what has happened with the Coupling remake do you think they will have learned from the mistakes? Will you and Stephen be involved?

Ricky Gervais: We have sold the rights and NBC have bought the option to do a pilot, so they can make it and they can hate it. We are going to be executive producers and we are liaising now with the writer to do a sort of Bible of what is the Office, what is David Brent sort of consultancy with Greg Daniels who is obviously one of the greatest comedy minds in the world, co-creator for King of the Hill and wrote about six Simpson’s. So, there’s no one better really.

DVDActive: So do you have any concerns to do with the American remake?

Ricky Gervais: Concerns is the wrong word, I think it is going to be different and I think some people may not like it as much as the original, but that’s a reflection of the first thing that you see, but the reason I am not concerned is that I think I am resigned to the fact that it will be different and possibly should be. Of course it is not my baby, that’s the real truth! The Office is my baby and the American one I’ve sold. I can’t whinge.

DVDActive: Do you think it will be shown on UK TV?

Ricky Gervais: I’ve no idea. I think if it is it will be a long long way down the line.

DVDActive: Will you be making a cameo appearance in the American show?

Ricky Gervais: No, I don’t think so. I think that would be a bit weird.

DVDActive: Talking about US TV, I hear you'll be playing a villain in a future episode of Alias. How did that happen and do you have any more info?

Ricky Gervais: JJ Abrams wants me to be in it, he is a fan, he wants to write me a part, and I said go on then! He said when are you free and I said these dates and he said, right I will get on with it. I think he also put it on his website. Appending everything being possible I would love to. I like Alias, it is good.  

DVDActive: How do you feel about playing a villain?

Ricky Gervais: I always play villains don’t I?

DVDActive: I wouldn’t class David Brent as a bad guy?

Ricky Gervais: No, I agree. I think he is a nice chap, a bit wounded and a bit sad. I think the Alias part will be a right Mr Nasty, an evil genious hopefully! I will have to wait and see.

DVDActive: How do you find the time to do a weekly radio show XFM with Stephen Merchant

Ricky Gervais: XFM 104.9 Saturdays 1pm till 3pm, with me, Steven Merchant and Carl Pilkington. To be quite honest if you have heard it you will realise that there’s not an awful lot of preparation that goes into it. We turn up, play records, insult Carl and go home! But, it is great fun. It is a great two hours a week; three idiots shouting at each other and playing their favourite music. Perfect, what a way to spend a Saturday!    

DVDActive: I have read recently that you are currently working on a book called 'The Flanimals'? What is the book about? When is it released?

Ricky Gervais: Yeah it’s a children’s book. I have been working on it for a while and it’s not out until next year. It’s a weird sort of ironic children’s book on two levels. Obviously kids will like it, but I think adults will like it as well. It’s got elements of Dr Zeus and there’s also a dark comic book sensibility about it.

DVDActive: What age groups will the book appeal to?

Ricky Gervais: I think they are being put out as between six and sixteen plus. Animals first and then Flanimals. I think people would get confused. Animals this year, Flaminals next year.  

DVDActive: What plans do you have for the future?
Ricky Gervais: I am working on a show at the moment, just dabbling. This takes me up to Christmas with the Office and then the DVD. I would also like to get a few trial gigs under my belt for before/just after Christmas for my new show. Obviously I will be promoting Animals in the next couple of weeks and then maybe Alias, go to America to film the pilot (Office). Then I don’t know really, I suppose then knuckle down and do our new big project, whatever that is. Whether it be a sketch show, another sitcom, a comedy drama or a film. We just need to decide what to do next really, because that will be another two or three year project.

DVDActive: Well, that’s all the questions from us. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to have a chat with us. I hope the Office DVD continues to sell well, and that your DVD release of Animals on the 17th November turns out to be just as successful.

Ricky Gervais: Thank you, it was a pleasure, thank you very much.

Thanks once again to Ricky, for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. I for one am looking forward to The Office Christmas Specials, it will be interesting to see how they follow on from the rather sad conclusion to the second series. If you are interested in the Animals DVD, and would like to find out a little more, you can take a look at our review here. Ricky Gervais: Animals was released on the 17th November and should retail at around £19.99 in total. The second series of The Office is available now.

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